Just weeks before the Utah Democratic Party was scheduled to elect a new leader in 2017, seven female activists accused one candidate — the party’s former vice chairman and treasurer — of multiple incidents of sexual misconduct.
Soon after, Rob Miller dropped out of the race and left the party.
Now, Miller wants to run again for chair and even spoke as a candidate at three county conventions last week in rural Utah. But the party says it never received his campaign paperwork by Saturday’s deadline and that he is therefore ineligible to run.
“I believe it’s a lie,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune. “My [online] application was sent in before we went into Spanish Fork Canyon [on the way to the Carbon County convention Saturday].... It went through just the same way it went through when I filed for another candidate.”
Miller said Tuesday that he planned to speak with the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office to see what his options are; Justin Lee, the office’s director of elections, told The Salt Tribune it has no authority over a private organization like the Utah Democratic Party.
It’s possible Miller could contest his ineligibility for chair with the state party, in which case Alex Cragun, the organization’s executive director, said it would be up to the rules committee to determine whether he could run.
The allegations against Miller, outlined in a letter sent to former state Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon just weeks before the 2017 party convention, alleged he had kissed and hugged women without consent, stroked their hair without permission, pulled down his pants to show Mormon undergarments and turned one supposed job interview into a date invitation. After the signed letter became public, two male Democratic activists joined the seven women to say they had also witnessed inappropriate behavior by Miller.
Miller denied all the allegations, calling them a false, last-minute “political ploy” by women who wanted to elect a female leader at the state Democratic Convention. Since then, he contends the party has continued to work against him, setting up a “kangaroo court” in a trial that left him with no rights or ability to defend himself.
That trial never came to fruition. The first complaint the letter signers filed was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. After they refiled the complaint, the party again found it did not have authority over Miller but allowed the letter signers the opportunity to appeal that decision in a trial. But both parties ultimately requested that proceeding be canceled.
Jennifer Miller-Smith, one of the original letter signers, was present for all three of Miller’s speeches Saturday and said she was disappointed that the party hadn’t done more to prevent him from running.
“I am not surprised that Rob Miller attempted to run for state party chair,” she said. “I predicted this for months and months and there’s no reason, in fact, why he shouldn’t, because the state party has not moved forward on this issue.”
In an effort to close “loopholes” in its old policy, the party adopted at the end of last year new anti-harassment rules clarifying that anyone who has voluntarily resigned a position with the state or any county Democratic Party in Utah after a complaint has been filed and before it has been resolved can still be investigated.
But Nadia Mahallati, who crafted and requested those policy changes, said she believes the party could have done more and should have adopted stronger amendments she’d proposed.
“It shows a lack of leadership from the state party,” said Mahallati, who is currently running for party vice chairwoman. “They had been told time and time again by me and other people that ‘This is a real possibility [that Miller could run]; something needs to be done.’ And over and over again, [they said], ‘Nope, there’s nothing we can do.’”
After his long history and contentious exit from the party, Miller remains unaffiliated but said he still has his “Democratic values.”
“I still love the majority of the delegates and the people that I served for all those years," he said. "I think it was more of a freedom of free speech to go out [to the conventions] and kind of say what’s important here and also to get myself on the public record. I’ll tell you this: I had no intention of ever becoming chair of the Utah Democratic Party when I filed.”
Instead, Miller says he wanted to speak to the rural communities he’d had a good relationship with during his tenure, to talk to them about some of the issues facing the party and to impress upon them the importance of choosing good candidates for top party leadership posts.
While Miller says he didn’t find out until he arrived in Carbon County that his campaign paperwork hadn’t gone through, he was allowed to speak to delegates as a candidate at that and two other conventions that day in Emery and Sanpete counties.
“I haven’t been to a Democratic event ... since the convention, which I went to reluctantly,” Miller told Carbon County Democrats. “But I wanted to stand up and look people in the eye and let them know that I’m not Brett Kavanaugh. I can’t say that I’ve never been inappropriate in my life. I don’t have the calendar that clears me. Men have to do better. If I ever hugged somebody or kissed them on the cheek and made them uncomfortable, I truly am apologetic.”
“You were always available for Carbon County,” someone can be heard telling Miller after his speech in a video sent to The Salt Lake Tribune. “I think you would make a great state chair.”
Miller-Smith said it was “surreal" and “disappointing” to hear Miller’s speeches and see the largely positive reception he received in rural Utah after he suffered no consequences for his actions from the party.
“I mean, our culture is always changing and we have our state party race right now but ... it looks like harassment has no consequences right now,” she said.
The Utah Democratic Party’s elections will take place June 22 at Park City High School. Candidates for party leader include current Chairwoman Daisy Thomas, Becky Moss, Jeff Merchent, Kathie Darby, Salt Lake County Democratic Chairman Q. Dang, Robert Comstock and Wayne Holland, a former three-term state party chairman.